Art project pays tribute to former Bankstown Synagogue

Senior woman Bertha Podobransky sitting down and holding her painting of the former Bankstown Synagogue. Standing next to her is Hunters Hill Art Therapist Lea Dalgleish.

A creative passion project by Bertha Podobransky of Hunters Hill recalls a once-thriving Jewish community and its Bankstown Synagogue.

For Bertha Podobransky, spending time in the Hunters Hill art studio has brought back memories her former home among the Bankstown Jewish Community. Working with art therapist Lea Dalgleish, Bertha embarked on a project to paint the former Bankstown Synagogue.

Bertha wanted to create a realistic image of the building using her newfound hobby. “I just wanted to show people that there really was once a wonderful Jewish community there.”

Remembering the past

When Bertha’s father arrived in Australia in 1914, he was among many Jewish immigrants from Poland, Russia and the UK. These immigrants settled in the farmlands around Western Sydney and opened Jewish shops along Chapel Road. Bertha remembers her father’s stories about travelling from the train station in a horse and buggy.

The Bankstown Synagogue of Bertha’s painting was conceived by architect Harold Smith in 1957. (Interestingly, Harold also went on to live at Montefiore Hunters Hill in later years.) Its striking design was based on the Star of David, a motif repeated in floor mosaics along with a Torah and Shofar. The magnificent building could hold 250 people, and though it was only in operation for around 30 years, Bertha and her daughter, Susan, recall how busy it felt at the time. It was the central hub for cheders, community luncheons and bar and bat mitzvahs.

In 1991, the Synagogue was firebombed, tragically destroying the place of worship for a diminishing community. The small congregation struggled after the attack, and the Synagogue never reopened.

The power of art

Hunters Hill Art Therapist Lea Dalgleish has encouraged Bertha’s personal journey. She helped her with everything from researching old newspaper clippings to deciding on the right paint colours for the building.

“This artwork has been significant for Bertha, recreating Harold’s design and remembering the thriving community that gathered there,” says Lea. Bertha is grateful to Lea for keeping her going through the emotional project. “She has helped me to bring the synagogue back to life, so I could see it in colour again.”

Bertha and daughter Susan present the artwork of the Bankstown Synagogue to the Sydney Jewish museum
Bertha and daughter Susan present the artwork to the Sydney Jewish museum

Preserving the Bankstown Synagogue for future generations

As a lasting tribute to the Bankstown community, Susan and Bertha arranged to donate her artwork to the Sydney Jewish Museum. “My mum is an amazing woman who has achieved so much in her life,” says Susan. “Our family is enormously proud to have a piece of our history recognised through her work.” The painting will become part of the museum’s online collection.

Since finding her creative side, Bertha paints in the studio three times a week. “It helps take your mind off things,” she says. “When I paint, I can shut out the whole world.”

Discover more about Montefiore’s 360-degree approach to care, including creative therapies and other allied health services, here.